I was recently reading the children’s book “The Little Engine That Could” to my children, and of course it made me think about the power of thought, and what a significant impact it has on each of us. I was reminded of a story that an old colleague had shared with me many years ago about a medical research project he’d learned about. While I don’t remember all the details of his story, the part that has always stayed with me was learning about how participants in the project who’d been given a placebo pill lost their hair simply because they believed they were getting a drug whose side effects could cause hair loss. For some reason, that has always stuck with me- that there was no medical explanation for their hair loss and the only explanation was simply because they believed it would happen as a result of their taking the drug. Kind of an odd story perhaps, but one that is incredibly striking in how it illustrates the power of thought and beliefs.
Our thoughts really do have enormous power. They influence so much of what happens in our lives, from what we do, to how we feel, to how we interact with others. Sometimes we are truly like the little engine thinking that we can, and that belief carries us through challenging experiences in our lives. This is best case scenario. Unfortunately, so often we carry with us negative or distorted thoughts and beliefs, and these can cause significant problems in our lives. These thoughts can fuel anxiety and depression, and cause us to avoid, isolate, or otherwise hold ourselves back in life. They make our world smaller.
This is where CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) comes in. CBT offers us the ability to change the distorted thinking that is causing problems in our lives. While it is not a simple nor an easy process at times, working with a trained CBT therapist can help us to understand the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and how we can use a variety of exposures and strategies to challenge the ones that are problematic. Through CBT, we can begin to better recognize the negative cycles that we get ourselves trapped in, and learn the tools to get out. CBT is structured, collaborative and present-focused, and, as such, can feel more empowering to individuals who have struggled with what feels like limited success in more traditional talk therapy.
CBT offers hope for the possibility of meaningful change; that the thoughts and beliefs that have become automatic do not have to be permanent. In learning the strategies to manage our thoughts more effectively, we can also begin to feel and act differently in a way that brings us closer to our goals. While the journey with CBT can take a lot of effort and perseverance, the end result of a happier life is so well worth it.